Nearly $2 billion available for eligible producers affected by 2017 hurricanes and wildfires

A firefighter works the Thomas Fire in the hills above California’s Los Padres National Forest during a firing operation in December 2017.

Standing on a boat ramp in front of a drought-stricken Oroville Lake, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a $536 million wildfire resiliency bill.

At the press conference, Newsom pointed out the hillsides surrounding the lake were part of a prescribed burn conducted by California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) which helped slow the North Complex Fire and prevented it from spreading into the community of Kelly Ridge.

Newsom stated the early action will provide money for “wildfire preparedness and preparation and suppression dollars and brings it now into the present.”

“California is taking bold, early action to protect our high-risk communities from the upcoming wildfire season before it starts,” said Newsom. “This crucial funding will go towards efforts including fuel breaks, forest health projects and home hardening. I thank the members of the Legislature for their partnership as we do more than ever before to build wildfire and forest resilience across the state.”

In 2020, California spent close to $9 billion fighting wildfires that charred 4.4 million acres and resulted in the loss of 33 lives, according to Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica). Bloom noted hearings for wildfire relief began in the fall of 2020 with the intent that monies be available immediately to mitigate wildfire risk.

The California Cattlemen’s Association (CCA) applauded the leadership of the governor and the Legislature, stating it is a “major victory for all Californians and the CCA.”

“CCA has advocated for early action funding to address wildfire resilience since November of 2020, specifically calling for $500 million in early action wildfire funding and requesting that at least $50 million be earmarked for prescribed fire. The establishment of these early action funds are one step of many still needed towards ensuring increased management of California’s landscapes.

“Ranchers across the state are ready to assist with putting in the work needing to happen on the ground now to create more fire resilient lands and communities,” CCA’s statement read.

The bill allocates $411 million from the General Fund and $125 million from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund in the current 2021-2022 budget towards wildfire resiliency.

The majority of the funds, $283 million, would go to CalFire to provide grants to improve forest health, reduce forest fuels by conducting prescribed burns, biomass utilization and assisting small timberland owners. An additional $198 million would be allocated towards creating wildfire fuel breaks and providing block grants to regional and statewide entities for “shovel-ready” projects. To protect the wildland-urban interface, $25 million would be provided for fire-resistant retrofits and inspections to ensure structures are in compliance.

Additionally, the state’s iBank will partner with the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development and other agencies to advance forest and agricultural-related applications to the Climate Catalyst Fund. The fund will provide loans and credit support to encourage businesses that utilize wood and forest biomass; encourage private-sector innovations in technology and infrastructure and supply chains in woody biomass markets.

The signing of the wildfire package is part of Newsom’s $1 billion early action plan for wildfire resiliency. Newsom announced earlier in April that he is relaunching the Forest Management Task Force to deliver critical commitments in the Wildfire and Forest Resilience Action Plan released by Newsom in January. The task force of federal, local and Tribal leaders builds on the state’s efforts to improve the health of the forest and reduce wildfire risk. In March, Newsom announced $80 million would be provided to hire an additional 1,399 firefighters with CalFire for forest management and wildfire response. — Charles Wallace, WLJ editor

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